Keeping Up with the Formatives

Formative assessments, like pretests and exit tickets, are meant to determine where students are at in their learning, along with informing instruction. I’m a big fan and use them almost daily in my classroom. They’re short, sweet, and to-the-point. (And Standards-based!)

Last year, I found myself falling behind in evaluating my exit tickets each day. And then this year, I started down that slippery slope again. Piles. Of. Formatives. I’m not going to lie, it’s a lot of work, “Keeping Up with the Cool Downs,” but I know how valuable the information is for me and the feedback I provide is so important in moving my students’ thinking forward. And then this happened:

Ummm… Yes! I was sitting there, realizing that I need to improve my craft, and I thought, Why not involve my students in the evaluating process? So I made some basket labels and posters of my own and bought baskets the size of half-sheets of paper at Dollar Tree.


To start a new unit, I explained the baskets to my students. The scholars would complete the exit ticket to the best of their abilities, showing all of their thinking, and place it in the basket that was labeled with the level of their understanding of the lesson. To keep this organized, I pick up the formatives after each class, staggering them by basket number, clipping them together by section. It’s been a successful addition to my classroom for several reasons.

I am able to get through the exit tickets with better feedback. With the papers sorted with the students’ metacognition in mind, they’re generally placed into groups with a similar understanding or similar errors. I can fly through the 3’s and 4’s, pushing them to think a little more deeply or prompting them to look a little more closely at computation. I can spend more time with my 1’s and 2’s and the feedback that I provide. Time well spent.

This has been so telling of the students’ confidence levels! Sometimes, that’s the most I can get from this management tool in my classroom. What a story this simple task can tell! If I have a struggling student place a paper in the 4 box, I’m probably looking at it immediately after class to check for success (*insert happy dance GIF here) or a misunderstanding that we need to discuss. When my quick-learners place their paper in a lower number, that’s also a red flag. At a glance, I can better understand where my students are in their thinking and learning, as well as their confidence levels in the skill and objective for the day. One class period I had all students place their formative assessments in the #4 bin! What?! Think about how much a couple of seconds of self-reflection can say!

I have been able to better inform my instruction by implementing this task. Since I have been more successful in handing back the formatives with better feedback, I’ve also been able to use this information in my teaching. We might look at examples as a class with quick Bonus Warm Up activity, like “My Favorite No,” “My Favorite Rough Draft,” or “My Favorite Whoa!” I might check in more often with my students that were challenged by the previous day’s lesson. I’ll look for the ways others are building upon their learning from the previous lesson.

Kate Carter posted about a twist on this idea:

Instead of using the statements for exit tickets, formatives to end a lesson, she used them to check progress to kickstart the class. I appreciate this idea because her students not only marked the level of understanding, but they had the opportunity to defend their choice and ask questions. Wow! I can totally see this being applied to exit tickets, as well. Love.

Some teachers have given these exit tickets in a digital format, like Google Forms. If that’s the case, you could add a linear scale question that looks something like this!

screen shot 2019-01-21 at 8.17.30 pm

When you give the students the opportunity to reflect and evaluate their learning and understanding, more often than not, they’re correct in their thinking. More often than not, I give better feedback. More often than not, learning happens as a result.

2 thoughts on “Keeping Up with the Formatives

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